A blizzard that has paralyzed much of the U.S. East Coast intensified on Saturday, bringing Washington to a standstill and forcing the closure of roads, bridges and tunnels into New York until Sunday morning.
In all, there were at least 19 deaths in several states related to the storm. It ranked No. 3 in terms of snowfall accumulation in New York City history with at least 25.1 inches (63.7 cm), and was among Washington's biggest too, the National Weather Service said.
Thirteen people were killed in weather-related car crashes in Arkansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia. One person died in Maryland and three in New York City while shoveling snow. Two died of hypothermia in Virginia, officials said.
After dumping nearly two feet (60 cm) of snow on the Washington area overnight, the storm unexpectedly gathered strength as it spun northward and headed into the New York metropolitan area, home to about 20 million people.
With the storm persisting through the night, accumulations of between 24 and 28 inches (60 to 71 cm) of snow were expected in New York City, northern New Jersey and western Long Island, with winds gusting to 45 mph (72 kph), the NWS said. Visibility was expected to be one-quarter of a mile (400 meters) or less.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency, as have 10 other state governors. He also imposed a ban on all travel on New York City area roads and on Long Island, except for emergency vehicles, from Saturday afternoon until 7 a.m. on Sunday, when all bridges and tunnels into the city from New Jersey would also be re-opened.
Subways running above ground and trains operated by the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North halted service at 4 p.m. because snow falling at a rate of 3 inches (8 cm) per hour proved too much for plows on roads and railways, Cuomo said.
The impact of the travel ban on the New York's financial services industry was seen as minimal over the weekend, and it was too soon to tell how much the heavy snow would affect Wall Street's reopening on Monday.
On Broadway, however, the impact was immediate. Theaters canceled Saturday matinee and evening performances at the urging of the mayor.
An otherworldly quiet descended on the usually bustling city of 8.5 million, the most populous in the United States. Tourists and residents took to the streets of Manhattan, with many venturing into the white expanses of Central Park, some on skis. Others built snowmen or had good-natured snowball fights.
While authorities in New York and New Jersey halted public transportation, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority took the rare step of suspending operations through Sunday in the capital.
"The forecasts suggest that the snow will wrap up late tonight or in the very early hours of the morning," Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said at a press conference. "But it doesn't make it any less dangerous. We expect continued high winds throughout the area which will continue to make the conditions and visibility very poor."
More than 5,100 flights were canceled on Saturday and over 3,300 more on Sunday, said FlightAware.com, the aviation data and tracking website.
United Airlines said on Saturday that it would not operate at Washington-area airports on Saturday and Sunday, and would gradually resume service on Monday. The airline plans to start "very limited operations" on Sunday afternoon at its Newark, New Jersey, hub and other New York area airports.